Employee Relations Board paddles TriMet’s bottom–again

Things don’t appear to going well for TriMet in its ongoing labor dispute–at all. In a blistering 8-page order, the state Employee Relations Board (ERB) once again ruled that TriMet’s recent offer in the ongoing contract negotiations constitutes an attempt to introduce a new issue into the bargaining process at the last minute, and as such is an Unfair Labor Practice. The remedy ordered by the Board is essentially that TriMet’s arbitration offer must contain the same language as the prior (and expired) contract, and that furthermore, TriMet’s freezing of wages at the expiration of the prior contract, without continuing the Cost of Living Adjustments (COLA) provided by that contract, was unlawful–TriMet is ordered to provide back pay to union operators to compensate for the difference in wages going back to 2011.

ATU 757 gloats here.

At this point, I do not know whether or not the recent round of budget cuts (and service reductions and fare hikes) anticipated this result, or if this will require another round of bloodletting to balance the books.

30 Comments

30 Responses to Employee Relations Board paddles TriMet’s bottom–again

  1. Michael, Portland Afoot
    February 20, 2012 at 4:07 pm Link

    To the last question: It won’t deepen the proposed cuts. The current budget cuts were “$12m-$17m” because there was about $5m riding on this decision.

  2. Nick theoldurbanist
    February 20, 2012 at 4:07 pm Link

    Bankruptcy filing, anyone?

  3. EngineerScotty
    February 20, 2012 at 4:21 pm Link

    @Nick,

    TriMet is nowhere near bankrupt–it is able to match its income with its expenditures, for the forseeable future.

    In the long term, its possible to imagine a scenario where pension obligations blow up, most of TriMet’s payroll tax revenue goes to paying retired bus drivers rather than working ones, service gets cut to the bone, and TriMet finds itself in sufficient trouble where Chapter 9 becomes a possibility. (Were most of TriMet’s revenues headed towards debt service, I could even see a situation where the Oregon Legislature then revokes TriMets taxing authority, to force a restructuring). What would happen then, I don’t know.

    But this story mainly concerns stuff on the current books, not future obligations.

  4. Nick theoldurbanist
    February 20, 2012 at 7:23 pm Link

    I have a feeling that the B day may come sooner than most people think. They can’t go on cutting service indefinitely.; just look at how much has been cut already. Plus, their health care costs just keep on ballooning.

    A whole paradigm change would be the only thing that would resolve the situation.

  5. dave
    February 20, 2012 at 7:54 pm Link

    Many of us in the private sector have had to endure years of paycuts, benefit cuts, 401k being suspended, and layoffs. That’s just what happens when the low hanging fruit gets cut. But what happens at Trimet? A powerful union is able to get it’s way. In the end the public suffers with massive service cuts and hugely inflated fares. It’s time that the union realize what it’s doing before Trimet is just a shadow of its self. The fear I have is that if service continues to be cut and fares increased, a large number of people will switch back to driving and only the very poor who cannot afford a car are left to ride Trimet. The union and employees have a choice. They can help Trimet out during a critical time (just I and many others had to do during the past few years). Or they can watch Trimet be turned into a shell of its former self.

  6. Jason Barbour
    February 20, 2012 at 8:51 pm Link

    All I can say to TriMet Operators is… congratulations! Really!

    The general public says ‘I don’t ride because TriMet vehicles are dirty, smelly, there’s no physical/personal safety, and on top of that I’m harassed constantly by panhandlers, petition-pushers, and other freedom-of-speech-abusers.’ For TriMet Operators, this is their everyday work environment, where they are also subject to assault and even death.

    The elephant in the room is NOT the union, and reports that TriMet Management is lobbying the Oregon Legislature to allow transit operators to strike makes me very worried that a strike is exactly what TriMet Management wants, as it would leave the Oregon side of the Portland Region without transit service.

    According to TriMet’s Adopted Fiscal Year 2012 Budget (PDF, 2.4 MB), TriMet’s overall budget is $998,533,000. TriMet is spending $410,121,000 (41%) on capital projects, and that doesn’t even include interest and principle on debts as they include that in operating costs. And that’s just “Page 2” (Page 5 of the PDF).
    Delving deeper into the document reveals the debt service is $38,534,825, an additional 3.86% of the overall budget and 41% more than what TriMet spent on debt service in Fiscal Year 2011 (Page 18 of the PDF).

    Now, let’s take a virtual 6-and-a-half-hour ride (car, intercity bus or intercity rail, nearly the same amount of time so your choice!) to Spokane, Washington, the Northwest’s largest city without light rail and home of STA. Smaller agency serving a smaller city with smaller budget, yes, however only 14% ($9,592,966) of their 2012 Budget (PDF, 916 KB) is going towards capital projects… and no debt to boot. And, notice a user-friendly document with easy-to-access data. Oh, and the transit vehicles look as nice in person as they do in the promotional material; and no 20-year-old Metros, RTS’ or 25-year-old MANs… their oldest buses were purchased the same year as ones TriMet still considers “new.”

    Any further questions on how “we have to do this” (unquestioned local rail expansion) has spun out of control?

  7. EngineerScotty
    February 20, 2012 at 9:33 pm Link

    Jason,

    $293M of the $410M capital costs is Milwaukie MAX construction costs, that portion which is booked in ’12. The rest is:

    * The Streetcar Loop as a pass-through project (meaning TriMet collects grant monies from Uncle Sam, and passes them through to the City of Portland; with a net effect on TriMet’s P/L of zero).

    * ~$800k for CRC work.

    * $700k for LO Streetcar DEIS work–with this project getting postponed, I imagine this line item will be much lower next year.

    * $4.2 million for energy storage units for MAX trains, funded by FTA grant.

    * $170k for a $2.5 million project to upgrade drywells to catch runoff from transit infrastructure.

    * $2.5M for hybrid busses, $2M funded by the FTA.

    * $21M to replace bus/train communications systems.

    * $3M to refurbish ticket vending machines.

    * $850k as part of a $12M project to replace fareboxes on busses.

    * $400k for rail maintenance

    * $7.2M to replace LIFT vehicles; TriMet contributes $700k.

    * $22.5M for bus replacement (other than the hybrids mentioned above). TriMet general fund contribution is $2M.

    Most of the capital budget is funded from grants; the lions share is for construction items, and much of what is left is for things that are entirely appropriate to existing operations. How much of it is necessary is a good question–I would like to see TriMet accelerating new bus purchases as much as it can, for instance.

    That said–are you suggesting that TriMet management wants to get rid of transit service? If that was the game, there would be far easier ways for it to be played–there are plenty of examples around the country of transit agencies which have ceased operation, and plenty of politicians who would be willing to take credit for such a thing. If TriMet management wanted to get rid of transit service, the budget cuts would be tilted far more towards service reductions, and layoffs for the union.

  8. jimbobpdx
    February 20, 2012 at 9:47 pm Link

    Jason Barbour – Cmon! Like 3 minutes of on-line research tells us that: 1)Portland MSA population is 2.26m, Spokane’s is 471k; 2)city populations are Portland 583k v. Spokane 209k and 3)Annual ridership for 2008 (the last confirmed year I could find for Spokane) was 78.7m v. 10.8. The TriMet number is originating rides, the more conservative of the ridership measures. Apples and grapes.

    Why you chose Spokane as a peer city is a mystery. Not much up there in terms of transportation or land use that we want to be modeling here. And did I mention how cold it gets?

    Of the sizeable capital expenditure you note in TriMet’s budget, the great majority of that is pass thru of other monies dedicated to transit capital – City, State, Fed funds. Yes, TriMet leverages its and others’ monies, but STA has in fact lurched from one financial crisis to another over the last 5-6 years. It was not clear that they would even survive had they not prevailed in getting a dedicated sales tax.

    And despite your “general public” that you say won’t ride, there’s another group of us that climbed aboard almost seventy nine and a half million times in FY 2011.

    Happy motoring!

  9. Douglas K.
    February 21, 2012 at 9:29 am Link

    The general public says ‘I don’t ride because TriMet vehicles are dirty, smelly, there’s no physical/personal safety, and on top of that I’m harassed constantly by panhandlers, petition-pushers, and other freedom-of-speech-abusers.’

    The general public says ‘I don’t ride because it won’t get me where I need to go in a reasonable time.’ Tri-Met does a pretty good job getting a large share of the trips for which it’s actually able to compete. Ever see what happens on MAX at Rose Quarter after a Blazer game?

  10. AL M
    February 21, 2012 at 11:42 am Link

    I don’t shed any tears for an agency that hands the man who created all this mess,FRED HANSEN $15,700 a MONTH, that’s right, A MONTH, and Brian Playfair,over $10,000 a month…CAN YOU HEAR ME? TEN THOUSAND A MONTH. FIFTEEN THOUSAND A MONTH.

    They knew they were gonna lose, the have done NOTHING to shore up the operation.

    Keep on hiring high priced executives who do NOTHING, any pay OVERTIME BY THE MILLIONS.

    If we get our insurance premiums back then the victory will be complete.

    If Trimet actually tried to get its fiscal house in order, instead of blaming unionized labor for everything, maybe I would actually support some sort of real cuts to my wages/benefits.

    As long as these fat cat arrogant executives think they can keep Turning themselves into millionaires on the backs of the tax payers then I deserve decent health care and decent pay.

  11. AL M
    February 21, 2012 at 11:49 am Link

    This is what I posted on my site:

    “TRIMET IS BREAKING THE LAW”

    How many times have we heard ATU 757 President JONATHAN HUNT chant that slogan?

    Well we now have the second instance where Trimet Management has been determined to be breaking the law.

    I wish I had a job where I could break the law, waste millions of dollars, keep my job, and walk away rich.

    Alas, I am a lowly unionized employee, not even deserving of my cost of living increases, paid health care,or basic human dignity.

  12. AL M
    February 21, 2012 at 11:50 am Link

    woops…sorry about the duplicate…i wish you would delete those [Moderator: Done, and don’t worry about it. –ES]

  13. Lenny Anderson
    February 21, 2012 at 11:54 am Link

    Capital expeditures (i.e. investments) are how you reduce costs and improve quality…just what the Milwaukie Lightrail project will do.
    Management salaries and benefits are appear to be competitive; operators are not. What other public employees contribute nothing to their health care expenses?
    Cutting service results in fewer jobs, so the real issue for the union boils down to preserving very nice benefits for some vs. adding more jobs. They should be chosing the latter. Even the UAW gets that.

  14. AL M
    February 21, 2012 at 12:03 pm Link

    Whatever Lenny;

    You make excuses for management with they are “competitive?”

    I got news for ya Lenny, TriMet drivers are not close to the best paid in the industry and the health insurance nonsense is just that, nonsense, (see MBTA policies)

    So your just plain wrong, just like the Portland media.

    We are not “THE BEST IN THE COUNTRY”

    It’s a downright lie.

  15. AL M
    February 21, 2012 at 12:09 pm Link

    This place is going under, retired executive Steve Banta made the comment:

    “we gotta sink the ship to save it”

    And he was right, and by the way is still moving up in the world of Transit management.

    See TriMet management wants it all for them, notice how Lenny ignores the question of FRED’S PENSION when he retorts “management salaries are competitive”.

    It’s all about them, how much can they make, how huge will their pensions be.

    We can keep expanding because it makes some people rich in the process, doesn’t matter that the riders who use Trimet don’t want that or need it.

    What they really need is MORE FREQUENT SERVICE.

    This changeover from BUS to rail, which has been going on for years, HAS DONE NOTHING TO IMPROVE TRANSIT OPTIONS FOR RIDERS.

    There is less service to less places for more money.

    Every single thing the management has been doing IS WRONG, and the riders are paying for it, LITERALLY.

    This management should be fired and new management brought it.

    Then maybe we can move forward.

  16. dave
    February 21, 2012 at 12:22 pm Link

    Al – Trimet is the winner of the Golden Fleece award for it’s expensive health care plans:
    http://www.commonsensefororegon.com/government-waste/june-2009-golden-fleece-winner/

    I’m not defending management. They have done some major screw-ups. For instance, who ever heard of a public transit agency selling off it’s rail cars (paid for by the feds) and then leasing them back to raise money? Or building WES at a cost of $15-$20 a rider?

    However in the short run, everything has to be looked at. Firing top managers isn’t going to bridge the gap in the short-run. They make a lot but not that much. Doubling fares (that’s what eliminating transfers is) and continuing to reduce service is going to destroy Trimet and hurt the people who need it. People in the private sector have had to endure cuts in pay and benefits. It’s not too much to ask folks in the public sector to do so as well.

  17. Aaron G
    February 21, 2012 at 1:05 pm Link

    As long as these fat cat arrogant executives think they can keep Turning themselves into millionaires on the backs of the tax payers then I deserve decent health care and decent pay.

    Why? Does it work for me to? Can I get free back-rubs until TriMet executives stop becoming millionaires?

  18. AL M
    February 21, 2012 at 1:39 pm Link

    http://www.commonsensefororegon.com/government-waste/june-2009-golden-fleece-winner/

    ~~~>Cascade policy group garbage

    “Why? Does it work for me to? Can I get free back-rubs until TriMet executives stop becoming millionaires?”

    ~~~>Y’all can choose to discount the millions being paid out to the executive class if you want, but the rest of us are not…

    Y’all can write all your wonderful sonnets about the paradise known as rail transportation, but most average riders just want decent bus service.

    Management is in this pickle by their own making, they want riders to bail them out, and they want the union employees to bail them out.

    I don’t expect any sympathy over at this site or any other site, but the law is the law, and this is the second time now that Trimet managers have to be reminded of that.

    (nobody at all finds it sorta funny how the hiring over at Trimet continues unabated? NOBODY?)

    You guys disappoint me.

    And I’d like to remind you, just because the whole word is participating in a race to the bottom, while the private sector HORDES its wealth and hands it to its executives, don’t think everyone is going to be passive about this.

    The Greeks are fighting the fight that eventually will reach our shores, make no mistake about it, the power elite has plans for the masses, and they don’t include handing any of us any more wealth than they have to.

  19. Lenny Anderson
    February 21, 2012 at 3:04 pm Link

    Don’t confuse a public agency with banks and giant financial institutions, that’s where the millions are going.
    I talk to a lot of folks who won’t go near a bus, but love MAX, which serves more people with a better ride at lower cost. Al, did you ever drive the 5 Interstate? Are you going to say that was better than the MAX Yellow Line? Come on. I love both, including the Ops, but…
    Why not more TriMet service, more transit union jobs and everyone pitch in a bit for health care? Would that be the end of the world as we know it? I think not.

  20. Jason Barbour
    February 22, 2012 at 2:09 pm Link

    $293M of the $410M capital costs is Milwaukie MAX … The rest is:…
    Yeah, it adds up doesn’t it. I’m not saying all capital projects and all debts are bad, but… 45% of the overall almost-billion-dollar budget?

    Jason Barbour – Cmon! Like 3 minutes of on-line research tells us that:…
    On this very website someone compares TriMet to Corvallis Transit System.

  21. Erik H.
    February 24, 2012 at 9:04 pm Link

    Capital expeditures (i.e. investments) are how you reduce costs and improve quality…just what the Milwaukie Lightrail project will do.

    Yet…purchasing buses is a bad thing despite their proven ability to reduce costs and improve quality.

    A new bus has much lower maintenance costs than an old bus.

    A new bus is more fuel efficient than an older bus.

    A new bus can attract ridership; an old bus gives a poor image and discourages ridership.

    A new bus is reliable; old buses are not and discourage ridership.

    An old bus that is unreliable has a higher labor cost – the cost of additional field mechanics, extra board bus Operators, and the cost of an Operator who has to sit around with their broken bus. This doesn’t happen with newer buses (at least not as frequently).

    A new bus can be an articulated bus and hold more riders than an older 40′ bus.

    A new bus could also be a smaller bus that is better sized to neighborhood and shuttle routes, and thus requires less fuel to operate. In some cases, the smaller bus could be operated by an Operator that does not require as high of a salary as a larger bus does (buses that have 15 or fewer seats don’t require a CDL, for example).

    Yet…there are folks out there that believe that TriMet’s continual policy of bus fleet disinvestment is better…when TriMet’s bus operating costs have climbed astronomically, when maintenance expense is much higher, and when ridership has slipped in many months as riders go back to other modes of transport because of reliability and safety issues.

    Other transit agencies took their Stimulus funds and bought new buses – because of the proven ability to lower on-going operating expenses. TriMet…bought streetlights for a non-TriMet facility, concrete (not for public use), a gas station and car wash (not for public use), rebuilt a 10 year old streetcar track and a street, an air conditioning unit (not for public use), and replaced the roof on a 15 year old non-revenue building. And as easily predicted – TriMet is spending more money now than it did before.

  22. Jason McHuff
    February 26, 2012 at 5:01 pm Link

    A new bus can attract ridership; an old bus gives a poor image and discourages ridership.

    What about people that, rightly or wrongly, refuse to use buses, period (partly because they can get 100% subsidized parking, etc and don’t need to take transit)?

    In some cases, the smaller bus could be operated by an Operator that does not require as high of a salary as a larger bus does

    Do you think the union is going to agree with lower wages?

    concrete (not for public use), a gas station and car wash (not for public use)

    So you think they shouldn’t spend money to keep their internal house fixed up, which can reduce costs and make more money available for external services? Also, it was a bus wash and not a car wash (plus a fueling facility, etc).

    rebuilt a 10 year old streetcar track and a street

    A streetcar track that was not intended to be permanent, and a street that was much older and not up to standards yet is expected to serve much more development.

    Overall, as for wages, a good, fair solution would be to tie increases to what managers and other non-union employees get.

    And in a worse-case scenario, TriMet could cut down service to where only trips that fill a vehicle and generate a profit are run before needing to declare bankruptcy.

  23. Thomas Le Ngo
    February 28, 2012 at 8:43 pm Link

    Really, Jason Barbour? Capital Projects are almost completely grant-funded. Read EngineerScotty’s summary again.

    Erik Halstead, as a daily bus commuter, I empathize with you.

    Jason McHuff: About that wages situation, I don’t think the union would be happy with no raises or COLA like us non-union folks.

    Disclaimer: This comment reflects my personal opinion and mine alone.

  24. Nick theoldurbanist
    February 28, 2012 at 9:52 pm Link

    “Capital Projects are almost completely grant-funded.”

    >>>> But the way I understand it, Trimet is paying about 10 million a year out of its own pocket for salaries for capital projects personnel, which could be applied to the deficit.

  25. Chris Smith
    February 28, 2012 at 9:54 pm Link

    Capital Projects are almost completely grant-funded.

    Except of course when TriMet bonds operating revenue to close the gap on major projects – $60M for PMLR…

  26. Nick theoldurbanist
    February 29, 2012 at 7:29 am Link

    “Except of course when TriMet bonds operating revenue to close the gap on major projects – $60M for PMLR…”

    >>>> How much does the debt service on that amount work out to EACH YEAR?

  27. EngineerScotty
    February 29, 2012 at 10:47 am Link

    Its about $3-4 million, IIRC. That said, the Leg has approved a raise in the payroll tax to offset the bonded revenue, so it may be a wash. (Without the MLR project, my suspicion is that the Leg would not have approved a payroll tax rise).

  28. Jason Barbour
    February 29, 2012 at 5:35 pm Link

    Capital Projects are almost completely grant-funded. (emphasis mine)
    Exactly, they require a local match. However, 45% of an almost billion-dollar budget? Does anyone associated with 4012 SE Center St. have a real answer to that? The answers I’ve heard so far are not answering the root question and are along the lines of “eat (deleted).”

    And, as I’ve already said, a much smaller agency with a much smaller budget can operate on a pay-as-you-go basis, buy new buses, avoid a third consecutive year of service cuts, knows how to use Vimeo, AND their budget is only 14% capital expenses. Something tells me I’ll receive no response to this (as usual).

  29. EngineerScotty
    February 29, 2012 at 6:11 pm Link

    Jason,

    Local matches generally don’t come out of TriMet operational funds–the $60 million in bonded payroll tax revenue is the major exception. Local match funds are instead appropriated by other governments–cities, counties, the State of Oregon–and generally are one-shot sources of revenue. Local match also can include non-cash contributions, such as donations of public land for a right-of-way. One of the selling points of the LO Streetcar project was that much of the region’s local match was the Willamette Shoreline ROW, so very little local dollars were going to build the project. (This is not an endorsement, just an observation).

    Counting pass-through funds in your 45% figure is a little misleading, as this is money that doesn’t affect TriMet’s bottom line either way. At any rate, Spokane’s agency–being a smaller agency in a smaller city–doesn’t do much in the way of major capital projects, so their capital budget is mainly things like bus replacement, facilities, etc.

    And I’m sure folks at TriMet know how to use Vimeo. :)

  30. John D
    February 29, 2012 at 6:37 pm Link

    And, as I’ve already said, a much smaller agency with a much smaller budget can operate on a pay-as-you-go basis, buy new buses, avoid a third consecutive year of service cuts,

    STA bus service has been severely cut in the last few years. Most of the their service expansion of the mid-2000’s was done away with (service expansion done with a tax increase approved by voters).

    Long time routes such as the 41, 48, and several others have disappeared into oblivion.

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